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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

I have always been a fan of giving students owner rights in the classroom. I think if they share responsibility, they behave better and learn better. This week I am trying to give them more responsibility in generating driving questions for our topic of study. The idea of student-generated questions is not new.

There is a great article in the Harvard Education Press about this. They have a protocol of steps that may help me on this journey. I am still in charge of selecting the question focus but the kids then produce questions, revise them, prioritize then the class with my guidance decides what to do next. The questions are interesting. Kids are generally used to asking closed-end questions. They are bombarded with them in assessments. These require short answers and generally do not lead towards more conversation or explanation. Open questions often begin with why, describe, how and what. Closed questions are a valuable tool in questioning, but for the start of an exploration we need more open ones. Teaching kids how to rewrite closed questions into more open ones is a skill that I have to teach first. Sometimes the prompt is key to getting kids to open up and generate questions.

The topic we will study is chemical reactions. I know kids have lots of questions about these and I want them to generate a lot of material for us to sort through. I do not want to limit the frame by using a video that only gives them one kind of reaction (generally combustion) to think about. I want all sorts of questions. I may use a set of videos, show some demos, or I may tell a story or two. The key is to get the students to generate a long list of questions. My prompt is this, “Think about chemical reactions, search the web, your text, your brain and come up with as many questions as you can about reactions. Record all the questions without judgment and know that we will sort them later. If you think of a statement feel free to change that into a question. The key is to not stop to discuss or judge these questions. Just write them as they come to you.”

We will post these either in a forum or use a wiki and let the whole class have time to take a look at the set and revise some questions to make them more open or even testable. Once we have a set that seems good to work with we will prioritize them and select our top 3 to 5. I do have the unit laid out as far as conceptual progression goes. The students study in the class and lab what a chemical reaction is and what it is not, they learn about different types of reactions and then they measure quantities from several simple reactions. We get to balancing equations by the end of the unit. I am interested to see if the questions take us in a different direction or if they reinforce the content. I can make connections between almost any question and the content in this unit. So, the adventure begins. I will post some good student questions and some reflections on this as we move along.

Happy questioning!

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